From understanding what insulin is, to learning about the four types of insulin, knowing about this hormone your body naturally produces can help. So, here you’ll find the basics about insulin and get answers to questions you may have.
What is insulin?
Insulin is a hormone the pancreas makes to help your body use blood sugar for energy — or store it for later use.
What role does insulin play in your body?
The cells in your body need sugar for energy. But sugar cannot go into most of your cells directly, so that’s where insulin comes in. Insulin helps keep your blood sugar levels from getting too high, which can be dangerous.
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Insulin, Glucose and You
When you hear the word insulin, you may think of a drug taken by people who have diabetes.
While this is true, what you may not know is that insulin is one of the many hormones created in the human body.
Insulin is important to the body. It allows blood sugar (or glucose) to get into cells to provide them with energy.
When you eat, your body breaks down food into glucose in your small intestine.
This is your body’s source of energy for everything it does, from working and thinking to exercising and healing.
Glucose travels through your bloodstream, looking for individual cells that need energy.
For glucose to get into the cells, it requires insulin.
Insulin is the key that unlocks cells for glucose to enter and deliver energy.
When insulin arrives, it signals the cell to activate glucose transporters.
These transporters pull glucose through cell walls.
When glucose moves into the cell, it delivers energy.
Insulin is normally produced in the pancreas by specialized cells called beta cells.
When glucose enters your bloodstream, the pancreas matches it with the right amount of insulin to move glucose into your cells.
In people with diabetes, this process doesn't work as it should. In type 1 diabetes, scientists believe the body's immune system mistakenly attacks and destroys beta cells in the pancreas. A person with type 1 diabetes loses the ability to produce insulin.
In type 2 diabetes, the pancreas is not producing enough insulin to meet the body's needs. Over time, the amount of insulin typically becomes less and less.
In some type 2 diabetes patients, cells build up a resistance to insulin. Even though there may be insulin in the bloodstream, it is not enough to unlock cells to allow glucose to enter.
As a result, it takes more insulin to find the right key to unlock the cell for glucose. This makes it more difficult for cells to get the energy they need.
The Effects of Diabetes
When glucose can’t get into cells—either because there isn’t enough insulin or because the body is resisting it—glucose begins to build up in the bloodstream.
As a result, all that energy is wasted. It does not get to cells where it is needed. Without glucose in your cells, they lack the energy they require to keep your body working.
Why is insulin important?
When we eat, most of our food breaks down into its basic components. One of them is glucose (sugar), which runs into our bloodstream. Turning blood sugar into energy that our cells can use requires insulin.
Normally, just the right amount of insulin is released from the pancreas to help the body use or store the sugar it gets from food.
What is type 2 diabetes?
For people with type 2 diabetes, the pancreas does not produce enough insulin or the body can’t properly use the insulin it produces to keep their blood sugar controlled.
Insulin resistance is the term sometimes used when the body can’t correctly use the insulin it produces.
What do the 4 kinds of insulin do?
The body continuously releases some insulin all day and extra at mealtimes. This helps keep your blood sugar stable. Insulin treatments like the ones you see here are meant to do the same thing. Simply put, they mimic how your body controls blood sugar. Keep reading to learn about the different types.
(also called “basal insulin”) lowers blood sugar for about 24 hours. It’s taken once a day and helps to control blood sugar throughout the day, between meals, and while you’re asleep.
helps lower your blood sugar for 12-18 hours and is normally taken twice a day.
(also called “mealtime insulin”) helps lower your blood sugar for up to 6 hours and is one of two types of insulin that are typically taken before meals. It’s often used with a longer-acting insulin.
(also called “mealtime insulin”) helps lower your blood sugar for 2-4 hours and is one of two types of insulin that are typically taken before meals. It’s often used with a longer-acting insulin.
Two hormones your body needs
Insulin is a hormone your pancreas produces naturally when you have high blood sugar levels. Your pancreatic beta cells make it. But did you know there’s a second hormone that’s also produced in the pancreas? It’s called glucagon. Your pancreatic alpha cells make it.
Your pancreas releases insulin when you have high blood sugar levels. And it releases glucagon when you have low blood sugar levels. Together, these two hormones help maintain a balance in your body and keep your blood sugar stable at all times. But even with the help of these two hormones, your blood sugar can still get out of balance. Keep reading to learn more about high and low blood sugar.
What about high and low blood sugar?
You just read how hormones help control your blood sugar around the clock. Even if you watch what you eat, you work out, and you follow your doctor’s plan for taking your medicines, your blood sugar may not always be where it should be.
When this happens, it has a name. Actually, it has two names. Doctors call it hyperglycemia (high blood sugar) or hypoglycemia (low blood sugar). And either one can be a problem. So speak with your doctor to learn the warning signs of low blood sugar and high blood sugar. That’s a great step in beginning to create a plan if either one happens to you.
Learning the symptoms of low blood sugar
When taking any medication, it’s important to understand how it might affect your body. So it’s good to know about what you may face when taking insulin. The most common side effect of insulin is low blood sugar. Some people may experience symptoms of low blood sugar, such as shaking, sweating, fast heartbeat, and blurred vision, while some may experience no symptoms at all. So checking your blood sugar is key. Talk with your doctor to learn more about the signs and symptoms of low blood sugar.